New Jersey Upgrades School Bus Seat Belt Law

This article originated in the July/August 2018 issue of Safe Ride News.

The front-loading area of a school bus.

In August, the governor of New Jersey signed a law that will require new school buses of any size in that state to be equipped with lap-shoulder belts in all seating positions.  The law goes into effect 180 days after enactment, giving transportation departments in that state time to adjust to the new requirements.

Back in 1992, New Jersey was one of the very first states in the country to require all school buses to have seat belts. At that time, lap-only belts were the only type available for school buses, so the law specified the use of lap-ony belts.  Since the early 2000s, lap-shoulder belts have also been an option for bus seating, but until passage of this revised law, nearly all buses in New Jersey were equipped with lap-only belts to meet the requirement of the law (other than buses weighing 10,000 pounds or less, for which lap-shoulder belts have been a federal requirement since MY 2011).

For many years, legislators in New Jersey have promoted bills to upgrade this law, but certain events in 2018 likely contributed to its successful passage this year.  A series of school bus crashes  have occurred in the state in recent months.  Most notably, a school teacher and 10-year-old student were killed in May when a full-size bus carrying children to a field trip crashed.

Although it is unknown whether lap-shoulder belts would have prevented these deaths in New Jersey, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has conducted several in-depth investigations of other school bus crashes, all of which support its recommendation that all buses be equipped with lap-shoulder belts.

In June, upon releasing its latest findings on two school bus crashes, the NTSB called on all states to adopt laws that require lap-shoulder belts on school buses, and it urged states like New Jersey that have laws requiring lap-only belts to upgrade their laws.  By responding to this call to action, New Jersey joins California, Nevada, and Texas as states with laws requiring lap-shoulder belts on all school buses.